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Old 11-17-2002, 10:22 AM
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danielle danielle is offline
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Default Federal death penalty rarely applied

Federal death penalty rarely applied

By RON WORD
Associated Press Writer


A former police officer who avoided execution for the robbery and slaying of a business owner is the latest example of prosecutors' trouble in securing the death penalty for federal crimes.

The government had sought the death penalty for Jacksonville police officer Karl Waldon, 39, who was convicted of 14 charges, two of which carried a possible death sentence.

Investigators linked Waldon and others to the murder of convenience store chain owner Sami Safar, who had withdrawn $51,000 from his bank for use in cashing checks at his businesses.

On July 13, 1998, Waldon stopped Safar's car, handcuffed him and put him in the backseat of his patrol car. The officer drove Safar to a school parking lot, where he choked Safar unconscious. The medical examiner could not determine the exact cause of death.

The police corruption case involving Waldon and other rogue officers became a federal case when Sheriff Nat Glover asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate allegations that police officers were tipping off drug dealers about raids. The investigation undercovered other robberies and kidnappings.

Before the trial, Justice Department lawyers reviewed the case to determine if Waldon should face the death penalty. After that review, Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered prosecutors to put Waldon on trial for his life.

A jury convicted Waldon of two charges that carried the possibility of the death penalty - conspiracy to rob and kill Safar and violating Safar's civil rights.

Jurors refused to impose the death penalty after ruling the killing was not for money - which was the aggravating factor prosecutors had to prove.

"It is not that unusual that a federal case that starts out with a death penalty prosecution doesn't end up with the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

In some cases, defendants agree to plea bargains. Others are acquitted and in cases such as Waldon's the jury does not believe a death penalty is justified.

Between 1995 and 20000, 682 cases eligible for the federal death penalty were submitted to the Justice Department. Prosecutors were authorized to seek death in 159 cases. Of those, 51 entered plea bargains. The rest went to trial, but most avoided the death penalty.

The federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind., has only 26 inmates and only two inmates have been executed since 1963.

On June 11, 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. Eight days later, Juan Raul Garza died from a lethal injection for murder and drug trafficking in Texas.

Ashcroft announced in March that the government planned to seek the death penalty against Zacarias Moussaoui, 34, who is accused of conspiring with 19 members of suicide teams to commit terrorism, hijack aircraft and kill more than 3,000 people in four jetliners, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Earlier this month, Ashcroft dismissed federal charges against sniper suspects John Lee Malvo and John Muhammad after prosecutors determined they would have a better chance of securing death sentences in Virginia.

Since 1927, 36 federal inmates have been executed, two of them in Florida. In 1927, rumrunner James Aldermon was hanged for killing two U.S. Coast Guardsmen and a Secret Service agent off southeast Florida. David James Watson, 23, was executed in 1948 in Florida's electric chair in Starke at the request of the Navy for murder on the high seas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Klindt in Jacksonville acknowledged the death penalty was a long shot in the Waldon case.

"It was an important message to send that if a police officer acts as judge, jury and executioner that he also must face the possibility of execution himself," Klindt said.

Kevin McNally, the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel, said most federal capital cases have more than one aggravating factor. McNally's office supplies information to federal defense attorneys in capital cases.

McNally said prosecutors attempted to add more aggravating factors against Waldon but were prevented from doing so by U.S. District Judge Henry Adams Jr.

Judges in New York and Vermont have questioned the constitutionality of the federal death penalty process.

In New York, Judge Jed Rakoff declared the 1994 Death Penalty Act, which is the latest version of the law, unconstitutional in July. He said too many innocent people have been executed before they could be exonerated.

The government is appealing the ruling.

In Vermont, U.S. District Judge William Session ruled in late September 24 that the law was unconstitutional because the sentencing phase denies defendants the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses.

The judges' rulings will not affect individual states' death penalty statutes.

Thirty-eight states allow capital punishment, though some have not executed anyone for many years. The governors of Illinois and Maryland have placed moratoriums on executions in their states.

"These two judges, they see people can get the death penalty and it's not always right," Dieter said. "They are pointing to cracks in the death penalty."
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Monica Danielle
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On September 22, 2003, my better half came home after 657 days in an Alabama prison!!!

And he's now forever free - passing away from this life and into the next - on January 9, 2010.

My Sweet Wayne
January 21, 1954 - January 9, 2010

I'll always love you.
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